Category Archives: Entertainment

Music hall, cabaret, dance hall

Gabor Steiner: That’s Entertainment

morgen vielleicht
Morgen Vielleicht!‘ (Maybe Tomorrow!) by Franz Lehar, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag (Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Ferenchich.

‘Gabor Steiner! I like this man. How grateful all Wiener should be to him! He alone saves Vienna’s reputation as a theatre town, as the city of music, dance and joy of life’.
Adolf Loos, 1903.

Gabor Steiner (1858-1944), the publisher of ‘Morgen Vielleicht!’ (Maybe Tomorrow!) was born with entertainment in his veins. Since early childhood he was spiritually nourished by artists and composers. His father was a famous Viennese theatre manager. His son’s godfather was the leading Austrian composer Richard Strauss. Amongst the friends of the family were Jacques Offenbach and Johann Strauss, Jr. Well, that is to say, until Johann Strauss’ second wife —thirty years his junior— left her middle-aged husband for Gabor’s brother.

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Wenn ich mir nur Fanny abgewöhnen könnt…!’ (If I could just stop yearning for Fanny!) by Willy Engel-Berger & Peter Herz, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag (Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Dura.

Gabor was a busy bee, always on the lookout for new ways to entertain people. He started working in theatres in Germany before ending back up in Vienna where he founded a concert and theatre agency In 1887. Two years later he began a publishing house to bring out plays and a theatre newspaper. But in 1890 Gabor Steiner had to stop all these enterprises because they proved not profitable.

Imre_Kiralfy's_Venice_the_bride_of_the_sea,_performance_poster,_1891During a visit to London Gabor witnessed Venice in London, a unique and dazzling spectacle. It was produced by Imre Kiralfy and staged at the Olympia Theatre. Kiralfy replicated the bridges and canals of Venice using machinery, water and electricity. On the gigantic stage no less than 1,400 persons were busy creating an enchanting illusion. Inspired by this splendour Gabor leased part of the Wiener Prater, to build his own theatre and entertainment city: Venedig im Wien, which opened in 1895.

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Venedig im Wien, 1895,  © Österreichische Nationalbibliothek

This Viennese version was an ‘artful’ imitation of Venetian buildings and gondolas with navigable channels constructed on an area of the Prater park, roughly half the size of a soccer field. More than 2,000 employees were catering for the visitors. There were shops, restaurants, cafes, a champagne pavilion, a wine tavern and a beer garden. Various stages offered a variety of concerts, Viennese farces, French comedies, operettas, revues, ballets, cabaret and wrestling events. Woo-hoo!
Venedig im Wien became a huge triumph and the extravaganza attracted crowds of people of all classes. The complete Who’s Who of the Viennese operetta performed there for many years.

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Gabor Steiner in 1897, © ÖNB Bildarchiv und Grafiksammlung
The success of his theme park didn’t stop Gabor Steiner  from following his business impulses. On the contrary, after the Lumières had held their first private screening of projected motion pictures in 1895, he bought their only other available cinématographe and opened the first cinema in Vienna. Unfortunately, the device was very poor. The viewers complained of headaches because of the strong flicker. At times the device failed completely and the public had to be refunded. Gabor Steiner didn’t wait the end of the season to close his cinema.
automatenbuffet
Around the same time Gabor envisioned another commercial opportunity when in 1895 the first buffet vending machines were built. Needless to say Gabor also had to acquire such an Automaten-Buffet which he imported from Naples. The novelty allowed customers to obtain beverages and sandwiches by inserting coins into the rather monumental machine chests.

These entrepreneurial excursions didn’t make Gabor lose sight of his golden goose in the Prater park. For fear that the visitors would lose interest, every year Gabor Steiner frantically renewed, expanded or completely remodelled the Venedig theme park. In 1897 he instigated the construction of the iconic giant Riesenrad that you’ve seen in the film The Third Man. Or didn’t you?

It was near this Ferris wheel that in 1987 a lane in the Prater  was named in honour of Gabor Steiner. The wheel inspired the fox-trot song Das Lied vom Riesenrad, for which Marcel Vertès —like Gabor Steiner a Hungarian— designed  the twirling sheet music cover.

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The Gabor Steiner lane in the Prater in Vienna (photo ImagesMusicales, 2014).
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Das Lied vom Riesenrad‘ (The Song of the Ferris Wheel) by Karl Hajos & Beda, published by Pierrot Verlag (Wien, 1921) and illustrated by Vertès.

In his constant quest to improve the entertainment park, Gabor filled up a ‘Venetian laguna’ in order to build an open-air theatre for 4,000 spectators. There he treated his public to typical ‘Prater-operettas’ presenting up to 200 dancers in huge ballet scenes.

5_ballerinenplakatLater still, in 1901 Steiner demolished the Venetian buildings altogether. In its place he established a new International City, the year after he created a Flower City and in 1903 it became the Electric City.

Meanwhile in 1900 Gabor Steiner had acquired the Danzers Orpheum, a theatre in the centre of Vienna. He completely redecorated the place in glitzy neo-Baroque style. The theatre was used as a winter venue (when the park closed) for the Venedig im Wien spectacles. The grand opening was with the operetta Venus auf Erden (Venus on Earth) from Paul Lincke, father of the Berlin operetta.

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Venus auf Erden‘ (Venus on Earth) by Paul Lincke, published By A. Bosc (Paris, s.d.) and illustrated by Leonce Burret.

In 1908 Steiner got into financial difficulties and went bankrupt.  For a few years he then tried his luck in managing the Viennese Ronacher theatre. But megalomaniac habits die hard and in 1911, the enormous cost of the theatre’s lavish refurbishing brought him into financial troubles again.

Interior view of the : Ronacher theater (source Wikimedia Commons, photo Paul Ott / VBW).
Interior view of the Ronacher theater (source Wikimedia Commons, photo Paul Ott / VBW).

It is now time to focus on Max, the son of Gabor Steiner. Max was a child prodigy, conducting operettas when he was only twelve and composing his first operetta aged fifteen. He would later become known in Hollywood as the father of film music writing the scores for more than 300 films. To mention just a few: Casablanca, King Kong, The Caine Mutiny and Gone with the Wind.

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Max Steiner – https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=40771800

The first time his father went bankrupt, Max moved to live and work in London. But in 1911, when Gabor again run into trouble, he returned to Vienna to help. He took over his father’s theatre and tried to stem the losses, but to no avail. The Ronacher was closed. Max was even imprisoned for a short period. His father had pre-sold a whole-year advertisement in the Ronacher theatre program. As managing director Max was sued for breach of contract.

At the end of that same year 1911 Gabor regained the management of his former amusement Park in the Prater. There he opened an exhibit called the Lilliputstadt (midget city) together with his sister’s son, Leo Singer who had assembled a troupe of performing little people. Lamentably, in the shortest of times, Gabor accumulated more debts and went bankrupt once more. In 1913 he separated from his wife and fled Vienna and his financial problems and he lived for eight years in London, Switzerland and New York.

leo singer
Picture of Leo SInger, surrounded by little people, in the Milwaukee journal, 14 December 1940.

Abroad, Gabor probably met again with his nephew Leo Singer, who had moved to the United States at the outbreak of the First World War. Years later, in 1938, Singer would provide 124 little people for the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz.

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The company of the tiny men and women who compose the famous Singer Midgets were received by President Coolidge in the White House. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C.

In 1921, after his voluntary exile, Gabor Steiner returned to Vienna. He was now sixty-three and hoped to become a theatre director once more. But it didn’t work out. Instead he started a music publishing house, the Gabor Steiner Verlag, together with Leo Singer who held office in New York and with the financial help of his son Max.

junger mann copy
Left: ‘Junger Mann!‘ by Richard Fall & Arthur Rebner, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag (New York – Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Ferenchich. Right: ‘Wir reisen nach Wildwest‘ by Robert Hügel & Peter Herz, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag (New York – Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Gareis. (Ostereichische Nationalbibliothek)
I und mei' Maderl copy
Left: ‘I und mei’ Maderl!‘ by Karl Haupt & Erwin Spahn, published Gabor Steiner Verlag (New York – Wien, 1923) and illustrated by E. K. Right: ‘Küss mich nicht auf den Mund!‘ by Richard Fall & Arthur Rebner, Gabor Steiner Verlag (New York – Wien, 1923) and illustrated by Ferenchich. (Ostereichische Nationalbibliothek)

From what we can deduce the publishing venture didn’t last long: the only known sheet music is copyrighted 1923 and early 1924. So far for Gabor’s triumphant comeback!

In 1938 Gabor Steiner, like so many Jewish artists, had to flee from Austria at the age of eighty-one. All his possessions had been taken by the Nazis and he went to live with his son Max, in Hollywood. In Tinseltown he promptly married his son’s secretary. He died in 1944. Perhaps he was more a creator than a businessman but he certainly had led a full life: Nur zu Bald wird man Alt! (*)

* Only to soon you will be old!

nur zu bald
Nur zu Bald wird man Alt!‘ (Only to soon you will be old!), by Edmund Eysler & Erwin Spahn, published by Gabor Steiner Verlag in 1923 and illustrated by Alexander Blaschke.

Jean Droit: a Scout Forever

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‘Brévitas’ by Charles Scharrès and Paul Berlier, published by L’Art Belge (Bruxelles, 1917) and illustrated by Jean Droit.

Already a lot has been documented on Jean Droit, the creator of the two sheet music covers at the beginning of this post. He designed posters and post cards, and illustrated magazines and books. Jean Droit (1884-1961) was a Frenchman and very much a patriot. He grew up in Belgium and always would keep an emotional bond with it.

Illustration Jean Droit pour partition musicale de Charles Scharrès (1915)
‘Déjeuner de soleil’ by Charles Scharrès, lyrics by Edmond Rostand. Published by L’Art Belge (Bruxelles, 1915). Illustration by Jean Droit.

In WWI Jean Droit actively fought at the front, and regularly acted as war journalist sending reports and drawings from the trenches to L’Illustration. He got wounded many times, and received the appropriate honours and decorations. Again in WWII, Jean Droit joined the army to defend his country.

Aquarell from Jean Droit (1914)
‘L’enlèvement des Allemands – Bois de Crévie- Meurthe-et-Moselle, 28 août 1914’. Aquarelle by Jean Droit for the magazine L’Illustration. source: Eric Dyvorne, Souvenirs de Campagne – Grande Guerre 14-18.

Being a lover of nature and forest Jean Droit became a pioneer and fervent defender of the Boy Scout movement in France and Belgium. The motto ‘Once a Scout, always a Scout‘ certainly applies to him. Shortly before his death, at the age of 77, Jean Droit aka Talkative Woolf attended his last camp.

le-loup-bavarde-jean-droitHe wrote and illustrated many books for children and teens on how to be the perfect scout, how to wear your uniform correctly and other essentials of Scoutism.

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‘Marche des Boys Scouts’ by A. Bosc, published by Auguste Bosc (Paris, 1928) and illustrated by Jandumon.

For many Boy Scouts at that time, an ‘Indian‘ was a hero and a symbol of the closeness to nature and the great outdoors. Likewise, Jean Droit had a fascination for Native Americans since his childhood and for emulating Natives who roamed the Great Plains of North America.

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Left: Jean Droit in Native American dress (s.d.). Right: Jean Droit in Boy Scout uniform, (1961). Source: Scoutwiki.

In 1929, together with the like-minded Paul Coze, he founded the study group Wakanda. Its goal was the study of the life and art of the Native Americans through exhibitions, performances, camping, games, and outdoor life, and through a lasso club. For the lasso club they weirdly had to change roles and become a cowboy.

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Paul Coze making publicity for the ‘Club du Lasso’.

Paul Coze aka Panther on the Lookout, had started Boy Scoutism in France and tried to introduce Indianism to the great dismay of the Catholic clergy.

In Paris Paul Coze and Jean Droit were inspired by a Yakima chief Oskomon (his name meaning green maize) who, according to his professional partner Molly Spotted Elk, was neither a Yakima nor a chief. Nonetheless Paul Coze introduced Charlie Oskomon into the Parisian high society where he met his patron Mme Clement-Herscher. She would manage his career until 1939.

oskomon-beau-monde-copy
Charlie Oskomon at dinner with the Parisian beau monde, 1930.

Mme Clément introduced her protégé Chief Oskomon to Molly Spotted Elk. Both soon started performing together. The handsome vaudeville dancer and singer Charlie Oskomon, who had previously performed as a Show Indian in America, charmed the Parisian beau monde. A delicate marquis remembered that he felt overcome by a deep vertigo watching Chief Oskomon’s athletic body with its virile force and its dramatic and violent expression. Another contemporary wrote: “He dances with the ease of a young savage god. He seems impregnated by a holy light.”

oskomon-2
Left: Portrait photo of the real Indian “Os-Ko-Mon”, a chief of the tribe of the Yakima Indians, who appeared as a medicine man at the Karl May Festival in 1939 Rathen (Graphische Anstalt Gebr. Garloff, Magdeburg) source: http://karl-may-wiki.de. Right: Oskomon in war attire (Picture by Sonya 1924).

Charlie Oskomon with his noble carriage made a great impression on Jean Droit and Jean Coze, and they became friends. He would frequently perform in their Cercle Wakanda, and they  published his poems. These were translated in French by the marquise de Luppé, another one of his female patrons. According to Jean Coze’s wife, Oskomon was ill-tempered and was being kept by Mme Clément and a bunch of other crazy old women. In that way he earned enough to live very comfortably in Paris.

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Chief Oskomon circa 1930 in Paris.

In 1931 Chief Oskomon’s partner Molly Spotted Elk performed at the Exposition Coloniale Internationale, a six-month colonial exhibition held in Paris. This event attempted to display the diverse cultures and immense resources of France’s colonial possessions. At the same time Chief Oskomon would perform at the parallel Exposition de la Mission, organised by his pal Paul Coze.

cherokee
Cherokee‘ by Maury Madison published by Salabert (Paris, 1931) and illustrated by MJ. The photograph shows the United States’ Indian Club, managed by Thomas O’Brien.

Between the crackling of the 78 rpm disc you can hear Chief Oskomon singing a sun dance, albeit arranged and orchestrated by the aforementioned Mme Clément who happened to be a composer. Years later in 1960, Jean Droit would meet Charlie Oskomon again in New York where he was working as a doorman.

It is said that Jean Droit was deeply Catholic. All the more surprising to find numerous lightly erotic images in his oeuvre. One of the nicest is this one for L’Escapade by Henri De Regnier. A reader of these pages might remember Henri De Regnier of the Académie Française as the adoptive father of Tigre, another sheet music illustrator.

Jean Droit's illustration for L'Escapade (1941), by Henri de Regnier. source:
Jean Droit’s illustration for L’Escapade (1941), by Henri de Regnier. source: Freddy Daems

To our surprise we found in our archives a small collection of eight catalogue cards delicately drawn by Jean Droit. They were printed by the famous Bénard lithographer from Liège for the elegant fur stores of Charles & Cie.

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Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)
Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)
Four catalogue cards for Charles & Cie , illustrated by Jean Droit (Liège, s.d.)

Hey, why not some music after this avalanche of images? We find Serge Gainsbourg appropriate: he had an ugly fight in the media with Michel Droit, son of Jean Droit, who as a conservative writer and journalist greatly took offense at the reggae version of the Marseillaise. Michel Droit wrote in Figaro Magazine (1979): “Quand je vois apparaître Serge Gainsbourg je me sens devenir écologiste. Comprenez par là que je me trouve aussitôt en état de défense contre une sorte de pollution ambiante qui me semble émaner spontanément de sa personne et de son œuvre, comme de certains tuyaux d’échappement… “(*).
Of course Gainsbourg reacted furiously in the media. Et cetera !

(*) Michel Droit: When I see Serge Gainsbourg appear, I feel myself become an environmentalist. Understand by this that I instantly find myself in a state of defence against a kind of atmospheric foulness that seems to spontaneously emanate from his person and work, as from certain exhaust pipes…

Madame Rasimi’s Ba-Ta-Clan

hullo clown
‘Hullo Clown’ by Roger Guttinguer, published by Lucien Brulé (Paris, 1923) and illustrated by M. A. Bonnami.

This captivating drawing of a clown by Marie-Antoinette Bonnami illustrates a song from one of Madame Rasimi’s revues. After her divorce from the director of the Casino-Kursaal in Lyon, she developed her own entertainment career in Paris. There she became the pioneer of revues with nearly-nude women, elegant costumes and lavish sets. Madame Bénédicte (aka Berthe) Rasimi was the owner of the Ba-Ta-Clan from 1910 until 1926. Under her direction the music hall achieved its greatest success.

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Madame Rasimi, 1915

When it started in 1864, the Ba-Ta-Clan was a vaudeville theatre where people met to have a drink and watch jugglers and acrobats. Or one could see a ballet, listen to concerts, play billiards or have a dance. Its name was borrowed from Offenbach’s operetta, and its architecture and decor was equally inspired by the Chinoiserie musicale.

Postcard of the Ba-Ta-Clan on the Boulevard Voltaire in the Bastille quarter of Paris.
Postcard of the Ba-Ta-Clan on the Boulevard Voltaire in the Bastille quarter of Paris (ca 1900).
The entrance of the Ba-Ta-Clan and its staff around 1910.
The entrance of the Ba-Ta-Clan and its staff around 1910.
affiches bataclan
Left: before Rasimi’s time, the Ba-Ta-Clan featured Miss Matthews and her mysterious serpentine dance, and also Paulus on a bicycle. Right: another Belle-Epoque poster for a revue around 5 tableaux vivants. (source: Bibliotheque Nationale de France).

Madame Rasimi changed the Ba-Ta-Clan, but not into an elitist music hall nor in a theatre showing abundant nakedness (that reputation was reserved for the Folies-Bergère, l’Olympia and the Casino de Paris). In the Ba-Ta-Clan the audience rather revelled in the pleasure of discovering sumptuous decors and magnificent costumes, mostly designed by Madame Rasimi herself. And there were of course a host of big stars to overwhelm the public: Mistinguett, Maurice Chevalier, Parisys… Rasimi’s troupe brought acts which were a mix between chorus lines, classical ballet and tableaux vivants. But always intertwined with a bit of naughty nudity.

Thus, the writer Colette also performed for Madame Rasimi in 1911 and again in 1912. In the pictures below we see Colette in her dressing room in the Ba-Ta-Clan. Her costume for La Chatte Amoureuse is rather demure, but in other pantomimes she donned the obligate bit of nakedness.

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Above: two pictures of Colette in her dressing room at the Ba-Ta-Clan. Below: Colette in La Chair.

In 1914 the Ba-Ta-Clan very optimistically announced its spring and summer revue: “The spring season will be the most amazing attraction in Paris during these splendid months…which only the hot July sun will be able to interrupt…The name itself ‘Y’a d’ jolies Femmes’ is a find. And be assured there will be a lot of beautiful girls, undressed with this exquisite art, suggestive, candidly lewd and deliciously perverse…”. And strangely, as a matter of fact the outbreak of the First World War was by no means counterproductive for the Ba-Ta-Clan. Au contraire, Madame Rasimi put on no less than 18 revues!
During the Great War the theatre programs all had the same illustration by Georges Lepape: a girl in a garden who has to choose between a mysterious missive from a masked man or a rose from a toothless devil.

Theater program for le Ba-Ta-Clan, illustrated by Georges Lepape. 1916 - Bibliothèque Nationale.
Illustration by Georges Lepape for the Ba-Ta-Clan program during WWI – Bibliothèque Nationale.

Also during the war, in 1917, Madame Rasimi staged the famous oriental pantomime L’Orient Merveilleux ou 1002 Nuits de Bagdad with two of the biggest stars of the music hall, Maurice Chevalier and Mistinguett. The famous Erté designed and costumed an entire act which featured the favourite of the caliph  wearing ropes of pearls around her breasts and harem pants.

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Costume design by Erté for L’Orient Merveilleux ou 1002 Nuits de Bagdad, Ba-Ta-Clan, Paris, 1917 – Dallas Museum of Art.

After the war, in the roar of the Twenties, Lucien Brulé published gorgeous covers for Madame Rasimi’s productions. They were illustrated by Jack Roberts and by Marie-Antoinette Bonnami.

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Sheetmusic published by Lucien Brulé and illustrated by Jack Roberts and M.A.Bonnami (see Illustrated Sheet Music website).

In contrast to the shows, the covers of the sheet music are rather demure and prudish, probably not to shock the publisher’s larger public. The only titillating cover we have found so far for Madame Rasimi’s productions, is for the Danse des Libellules by Franz Léhar. The illustration is by Georges Dola, though he also made a more mainstream cover for this same popular Ba-Ta-Clan revue.

Sheet music covers illustrated by Georges Dola for 'La Danse des Libellules'.
Two sheet music covers illustrated by Georges Dola for the Franz Léhar revue ‘La Danse des Libellules’.

The pictures below show a few examples of Madame Rasimi’s costumes for La Danse des Libellules.

A BA-TA-Clan, quelques jolies interprètes de la Danse des libellules by Waléry – Comoedia n° 32, 1924 – Bibliothèque Nationale

In 1921 Madame Rasimi produced an abridged music-hall adaptation of the surrealist ballet Le Boeuf sur le toit by Darius Milhaud. She included that personalised version of Le Boeuf sur le toit in one of her revues, of course with a lot of nudity and humour.

Illustration for Le Boeuf sur le toit by Raoul Dufy.
Illustration for Le Boeuf sur le toit by Raoul Dufy.

In 1922 Madame Rasimi took her ensemble on a first South American tour. Other tours would soon follow and her shows were a great sensation in Buenos Aires, Montevideo, Rio de Janeiro and Mexico City. During her first visit she had a conflict with the Brazilian press, who accused her of caricaturing the Brazilian people in her version of Le Boeuf sur le Toit. Madame Rasimi hastened to state in a letter that Ba-Ta-Clan had never offended or ridiculed Brazil in any of its revues: the ultramodern pantomime Le Boeuf sur le Toit, although inspired by Brazilian music only parodied the American Prohibition law. She must have mollified the Brazilian press as her revue became an instant success.

Madame Rasimi’s spectacles triggered a new South American concept, bataclanismo and the bataclana. At the time the word bataclana was used to indicate a kind of female star who represented the erotic, and more dangerous aspect of the flapper. Later the term was used to indicate an actress who is supposedly singing or dancing but is really just showing off her body, and by extension a stripper.

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Madame Rasimi’s bataclanas…

Unfortunately, a tour of South America and the Caribbean in 1926 ruined Madame Rasimi and she had to sell the Ba-Ta-Clan. She bid farewell to her beloved chorus girls who nicknamed her Madame Rase-Mimi (Mrs. Shave-Mimi) because she told them to shave their eyebrows and armpits. Still, Madame Rasimi continued her career as a costume designer well into the Fifties.

Madame Rasimi’s Ba-Ta-Clan was a place for lightness and joie de vivre, not a place for horror. For the moment, I’ll just pretend there is no evil in the world and play an innocent game of Ba-Ta-Clan.

 


Further reading: Bataclanismo ! Or, How Female Deco Bodies Transformed Postrevolutionary Mexico City by Ageeth Sluis